Sondheim!- page 9 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Sondheim!

A summer festival showcases the wit and artistry of the musical-theater master, drawing "nuts" from all over

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In the depths of her interior

Were fears she was inferior

And something even eerier

But no one dared to query’er superior exterior. . .

 

And then there’s “A Little Priest,” the boggling waltz from Sweeney Todd. If not the wittiest duet ever written (I’d love to hear one better), it’s inarguably the wittiest ever written about cannibalism. Its lip-smacking rhymes flesh out the culinary delights of dishes that one might prepare out of London’s heterogeneous population, including “shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top” and “politician so oily it’s served on a doily.”

 

Sondheim devotees will be forever grateful to Library of Congress music specialist Mark Horowitz for the interviews he conducted with Sondheim in 1997, the most extensive about how the composer works and the basis of an upcoming book, Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions. The interviews help one appreciate the musicality of Sondheim’s language and the speechlike articulation of his musical notes, not to mention his pursuit of perfection. In the score of Sunday, for instance, Sondheim indicates when George should jab his paintbrush at the canvas, synching the visual act of painting with accents in the music. In Sweeney Todd, he invented some bawdy Cockney slang to go with the real stuff that he found in a book.

 

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